Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rivers into Seas


Palaces of drift and crystal, the clouds
loosen their burden, unworldly flakes so thick
the border zones of sea and shore, the boundless zones
of air fuse to float their worlds until the spirits   
congregate, fleet histories yearning into shape.

Close my eyes and I’m a vessel. Make it
some lucent amphora, Venetian blue, lip circled
in faded gold. Can you see the whorls of breath,
imperfections, the navel where it was blown
from the maker’s pipe, can you see it drawn

up from the bay where flakes hiss the instant
they become the bay? Part the curtain. The foghorn’s
steady, soothing moan—warning, safety, the reeling
home. Shipwreck and rescue. Stories within stories—
there’s this one of the cottage nestled into dune

snowed into pure wave, the bay beyond and its lavish
rustle, skirts lifting and falling fringed in foam.   
But I’m in another season—my friends’ house adrift,   
Wally’s last spring-into-summer, his bed a raft,
cats and dogs clustered and we’re watching television

floods, the Mississippi drowning whole cities
unfamiliar. How could any form be a vessel
adequate to such becoming, the stories unspooled
through the skein of months as the virus erased
more and more until Wally’s nimbused as these

storm clouds, the sudden glowing ladders they let fall?
But that’s not the moment I’m conjuring—it’s when
my voyager afloat so many months brought back   
every flood story I carried. Drifting worlds,
and Wai Min takes a shape I tell Wally as

steady watermarks across the cold bare floor—
Chinatown, South Pacific flashing its crimson,
neoned waves tranced across Wai Min’s midnight eyes
behind black shades, and that voice unraveling past
each knocking winter pain. It’s another world

I’m telling, Cognac and squalor. The foghorn’s haunting drone
blends with that halting monotone, scarlet watermarks,
the Sinkiang’s floodtides murky brown, the village
become water, swept away. Three days floating on a door,
his sister, the grandmother weaving stories endless

beneath the waxed umbrella canopy she’s fashioned,
stories to soothe the children wrapped in the curtain
of her hair, to calm the ghost souls’ blurred lanterns.
How rats swam to their raft, soaked cats, spirits
she said, ghosts held tranced by the storied murmurous

river. I have no spell, simply the foghorn’s song
when voices unbodied, drift over water past
the low dune this cottage nestles in becoming
shape in motion stilled. No boundaries on this point,
foghorn singing its come-home incantation over

the ruthless currents. And isn’t it so
we’re merely vessels given in grace, in mystery,
just a little while, our fleet streaked moments?
As this day is given, singular, chilly
bolts of snow chenilled across the sky, the sea.

How to cipher where one life begins and becomes
another? Part the curtain and here’s my voyager
afloat, gentle sleeper, sweet fish, dancer over
water and he’s talking, laughing in
that great four-poster bed he could not leave

for months, a raft to buoy his furious radiant soul,
if I may hazard to say that? Yes,
there was laughter, the stories, the shining dogs—
gold and black—his company. Voyager afloat
so many months, banks of sunflowers he loved spitting

their seeds. Tick. Black numerals on the sill.
A world can be built anywhere & he spun, letting go. . . .
The last time I held him, the last time we spoke, just
a whisper—hoarse—that marries now this many-voiced mansion
of storm and from him I’ve learned to slip my body,

to be the storm governed by the law of bounty given
then taken away. Shush and glide. This tide’s running
high, its silken muscular tearing ruled by cycles,   
relentless, the drawn lavish damasks—teal, aquamarine,
silvered steel, desire’s tidal forces, such urgent

fullness, the elaborate collapse, and withdrawal
beyond the drawn curtain that shows the secret
desert of bare ruched sand. I’ve learned this,   
I’ve learned to be the horn calling home
the journeyer, saying farewell. And here’s

the foghorn’s simple two-note wail,
mechanical stark aria that ripples
out to shelter all of us—
our mortal burden of dreams—
adrift in the sea’s restless shouldering. 
—Lynda Hull 
For Wally Roberts, 1951-1994


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